Pienaar announced yesterday that he would no longer be available for selection for South Africa, citing the dual demands of club and international football as the major factor behind his decision. The 30-year-old has collected 57 caps since making his debut for Bafana-Bafana in 2002, and represented his country in two World Cups. He was the current national team captain under Gordon Igesund.
And Howard, himself an international veteran, says he can sympathise with Pienaar’s situation.
“I don’t believe in some of these people who say they will never retire from playing for their country,” said the goalkeeper, who has himself earned 81 caps for the USA. “Each individual is different. Everyone has their own reasons for doing things, and it can be difficult sometimes. “Everyone has a responsibility to their country, but also to their clubs. Steven has had a very good international career, and I’m sure it won’t have been an easy decision for him."
“There is a lot on our shoulders, and you have to make those decisions sometimes. It is certainly not easy, particularly knowing the way Steven is thought of in South Africa. That must have been really difficult. “But we have to make these decisions. I’d say Steven’s form (for Everton) could improve as a result, but it can’t get any better can it?! He has been brilliant every time he has stepped on to the field for Everton, stretching back many years. “But hopefully now (his retirement) will help him stay fit, get fresher and give even more for the club.”
Pienaar himself issued a statement that said: “I’m proud to have played for and captained my country. For that I thank you. “After having given more than 10 years’ service to the national team, I am now at a stage where physically I am struggling to balance the demands of playing in England with the number of games required by South Africa. “There is a lot of very good young talent coming through and perhaps it is time for them to be given an opportunity. I wish the coaching staff and the players all the very best for the future.”
Everton boss David Moyes insisted the club had no input in the in-form midfielder’s decision, though Pienaar’s retirement will directly benefit the Blues this season. The Toffees will not lose the former Tottenham man to the Africa Cup of Nations, which takes place in South Africa in January, and could have led to Pienaar being missing for up to six weeks.
Moyes said: “I have never discouraged any player from playing for his national team. In fact I encourage it. Steven has made his own decision and we support him.”